All About Buttercream
Whether you just want to ice some small cupcakes or cookies, a birthday cake, or a wedding cake, buttercream frosting is the most popular and tastiest choice for decorating baked goods. The simple reason for its popularity is that buttercream has a rich flavor and texture. This creamy wonder of a cake covering is made from butter (or margarine), powdered sugar, some flavoring, and the addition of a bit of liquid of your choice: coffee, water, cream, milk, or juice. If you're too lazy or stretched for time, you can even purchase buttercream frosting in a can with very acceptable flavor and texture, although in this form, it is only suitable for covering a cake and not for piping.
Buttercream is versatile in its ability to be used to both coat a cake or to pipe decorative designs. Buttercream that is to be used as a coating will be thinner for easier spreading, while buttercream that is meant to be piped will be of a stiffer consistency. When you make your own, homemade buttercream frosting, you can control the consistency by adding small amounts of your chosen liquid to the icing as you beat it, until the proper consistency is reached. Purchased buttercream only comes in the softer consistency, making it inappropriate for piping.
As buttercream dries, a thin crust is created and any details you've applied, for instance swirls, flowers, leaves, or scrolls, will gain definition. If you've added food coloring, the color will be one shade darker when dry than it was when applied. Piped decorations that don't meet your exacting standards are easy to remove with a spatula or toothpick whether the icing is fresh or already dry. You can then patch up these mistakes by giving it another go with your decorating tube.
The best type of food coloring is in paste or gel form. Paste colors are available in craft and specialty shops. The liquid food coloring that is commonly available in supermarkets will tend to water down your icing too much since you may need to add great quantities to obtain the depth of color you desire.
The paste is added with the aid of a toothpick. Dip a toothpick into the paste, and then into the icing. Beat and decide if you wish to add more color. Remember that the color deepens one hue as the icing dries.
Buttercream icing should be at room temperature for best results. If you refrigerate the icing, it will become hard and may crack. It will then be difficult to spread in an even coating. If you must make buttercream icing in advance, refrigerate or freeze the icing and bring it to room temperature before use by leaving it out on the counter for some time or by the judicious use of a double boiler. Never place the icing over direct heat or in the microwave or you will destroy its texture beyond repair.